Taiwan has become something of an afterthought in US policy discussions on Asia’s future, a US academic has told a congressional seminar.
Taiwan’s strategic location and its unique potential as a Mandarin-speaking democracy to influence the course of Asian affairs has been given “short shrift,” Hudson Institute research fellow Eric Brown said.
“Even more worrisome has been the creeping acceptability of the idea that the US’s long-established security relationship with Taiwan is placing us on a collision course with an ever-more powerful PRC [People’s Republic of China],” he said.
Brown’s remarks were released on Thursday in Washington by the Hudson Institute, but were actually delivered two weeks ago to congressional staff members working on Asian issues.
“The US-Taiwan relationship has been a pillar of the security order which has sustained the previous three decades of general peace and unprecedented prosperity in Asia,” he said.
According to his prepared remarks, Brown said that there were a number of proposals on offer about how to best accommodate the PRC’s growing power so as to reduce US competition with Beijing and maintain peace in the region.
“What’s striking is how such proposals almost seem to unthinkingly accept the terms proffered by the PRC, including the question of Taiwan,” he said.
Any new agreement with the PRC would necessarily require that the US accommodate what Beijing claims as its “core interests” and that would mean “capitulation on Taiwan and elsewhere in the South China Sea,” Brown said.
“The power of such proposals is formidable and they’ve led to growing calls for the US to withdraw from Taiwan,” he said.
“So strong is the desire not only for peace, but for these particular peace plans to work, that alarm has been raised that we Americans won’t accommodate the PRC’s legitimate and merely regional aspirations,” he said.
“Thus, because of American intractability, the argument holds that war in Asia becomes more likely,” Brown said.
If the US does abandon Taiwan, he said, and the People’s Liberation Army sets up a naval base in the country, it would fundamentally reshape the strategic architecture of the West Pacific.
“We know from the PRC itself that it won’t — because it can’t — countenance Taiwan as an equal. How then would it treat democratic Japan? Or South Korea?” he said.
The US’ increasing isolation from Asia would increase the risk of friction with the PRC and of “outright conflict,” he said.
Brown said that a central US task was to work with Asian allies to nudge Beijing closer to democracy.
“This is where I think Taiwan’s role is potentially indispensable,” he said.
Far from being a strategic liability for the US in the emerging Asian order, Taiwan had a “potentially unique game-changing” role to play, he added.
“As a Chinese-speaking democracy, it has a special opportunity to become a viable model for China’s evolution and to help enlighten the political institutions and future course of affairs on the mainland,” Brown said.
“I say Taiwan may potentially play this role, but as of now it is not clear it will choose to do so,” he said. “There is concern that the democracy on Taiwan may not prove robust enough to remain a pillar of the liberal order in Asia.”
Brown said that in the past Taiwan had helped to show China there was a better way forward.
“It may yet do this again,” Brown said, “especially if the US also proves our robust commitment to democracy by renewing and deepening our relationships with the Republic of China.”